Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) is a rare brain disease that that causes problems with walking, swallowing, speech and eye-movements. Unfortunately, because it is a rare disease doctors often mistakenly diagnose as Parkinson’s disease (PD). Misdiagnosis of this disease is a problem for many reasons. Firstly, the medicines that are effective for treating PD do not work for PSP. They also have
unpleasant side effects such as nausea and vomiting, changes to blood pressure, loss of appetite, constipation, hallucinations, headaches & insomnia. Misdiagnosis therefore is both harmful to the patient
and wasteful of scarce NHS resources. Secondly, the prognosis for PSP is much worse than that of PD and the disease progresses much more swiftly, so misdiagnosis makes it a lot harder for patients and carers to gain access to the financial support needed to adjust their lifestyle to maximise their quality of life. For example, patients with PSP often require home adaptations and wheelchairs to compensate for their reduced mobility. Finally, inaccurate diagnosis is distressing to patients and carers and leads to unnecessary hospital visits. It is therefore important to develop new ways to effectively diagnose PSP.
Existing research, including a pilot study we recently conducted, suggests that people with PSP have problems with visuospatial attention and short term memory. However, these factors are not routinely
used during diagnosis. Our project will examine the claim that tests of attention and memory can be used as a cheap and effective way of differentiating between PSP and Parkinson’s disease. We will ask groups of patients to complete computer based tests that measure visual attention. For example, in one test patients must search a scene to find a target object. We will also measure their short term memory, their ability to recognise emotions and their eye-movements. These tests can be completed using a laptop, so we can test people in their own homes to make it easier for them to participate. We hope to show that the scores on these tests can be used to classify a patient as having either PSP or PD. This research is an essential stepping-stone towards developing an accurate and accessible diagnostic test for PSP.